Whenever a friend who has never practised yoga before asks me for recommendation, I would always strongly recommend them to pick up these set of basics poses (or asanas in sanskrit) before moving onto other asanas: child’s pose (balasana), downward facing dog (ardho muka svanasana) and sun-salutation (surya namaskar). Child’s pose as a comfortable and almost accessible resting pose for all; downward facing dog for being a classic transition pose in between asanas and sequences and a great pose to reset the body from head to toe; and the topic of this post – the surya namaskar. Surya namaskar when translated from Sanskrit means Sun Salutation.
You may also have come across yoga studios offering beginners classes with surya namaskar as the syllabus. I think this is an excellent choice for a beginners class, as surya namaskar introduces the most common asanas used in many other yoga sequences. Mastering (by mastering I mean doing the poses safely in the correct form, not necessarily the best or better than others) the surya namaskar also gives you sort of an entry ticket into vinyasa-based/flow classes where surya namaskar forms the transitions between sequences.
Before I delve deeper into the physical benefits of surya namaskar, I want to touch briefly on the history and significance of surya namaskar and debunk a few myths along the way.
The origins of Sun Salutations are vague. There are many versions of Sun salutations that have appeared over the course of history. Ancient records of Sun Salutations did not have any associated poses (that we know of) and the sequence (and it’s variations) that we know and practise today is actually a relatively modern conception. While some branches of yoga practise sun-salutation with mantras associated with the Hindu sun god, the set of physical poses is not a prayer or worship to the Hindu sun god. I highly recommend those who are interested but held back by religious concerns in the practise of yoga to consider the physical sequence nonetheless.
This set of poses may have different significance to different groups of practitioners, but I personally view it as an excellent non-religious ritual to give thanks to the Sun, which is scientifically the source of energy and ultimately life for everything that exists on earth. Each time I perform surya namaskar I give thanks for my body for being healthy and well, which leads me to the physical benefits that Sun Salutation provides.
The poses within the surya namaskar requires you to activate almost all the major muscle groups in your body. You will open your chest, lengthen your spine, stretch your hamstrings. It works your arms, your shoulders, your core, your glutes, your calves, your quads, your wrists, toes, ankles and many more…to be able to do a round of surya namaskar means that you are strong and healthy, and let it remind you to be thankful and be confident.
Because surya namaskar works almost the entire body in a gentle manner, it is a great warm-up before leading into your preferred yoga sequence. Alternatively, perform surya namaskar early in the day, when the sun is rising, as it is an invigorating sequence that promotes blood flow throughout your body so that you are ready to face the day’s (physical and mental) challenges.
200 Hour YTT Oct’20